As we've noted before, the word “saint” is not used in the Bible for some special elite group but refers to every Christian. In light of that, the Apostle Paul says something staggering in Ephesians 3:8: Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints. Here is a man of unequaled humility, the very opposite or the “selfism” of our day. Paul’s view of “self” was the very opposite of the world’s view, and until Christians realize that and reject the nonsense of today’s “selfism,” we will never have a pure Church that is committed to service and true ministry. How can any of us ever be servants when we hold to a high “self-worth,” which is one of the catchwords of our day?
There is within Christianity a philosophy that is working like a cancer. This philosophy is known by many titles and descriptions: self‑esteem, self‑image, self‑worth, self‑acceptance, self‑awareness, self-improvement, self‑help, and, to cut to the heart of the matter, “secular psychology.” We need to take a moment to show that the basic underlying philosophy of this is, without question, diametrically opposed to Scripture.
Christianity today has become utterly fascinated, captivated, and motivated by the term “self‑esteem.” This term has become a by‑word in Christian circles. Sermons and whole seminars are devoted to it and its application; Christian leaders are teaching it as though it were Biblical doctrine. As we’ll see, the terms “self” and “pride” are NEVER, not one single time, used in Scripture in a positive way. Never, not in a single instance, are we encouraged to glorify self, to elevate self. May I say it one more time, not even one Scripture warrants this popular teaching.
In spite of that Biblical fact, one of the foremost Christian leaders of our day, who majors on the family, abandons that truth by writing: “In a real sense, the health of an entire society depends on the ease with which the individual members gain personal acceptance. Thus, whenever the keys to self‑esteem are seemingly out of reach for a large percentage of the people, as in twentieth century America, then wide‑spread “mental‑illness,” neuroticism, hatred, alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, and social disorder will certainly occur.
In other words, low self‑esteem (i.e. thinking lowly of one’s self) is at the root of all the problems of society. But one flaw in this theory is that other psychologists say that the problems in society are caused by other factors. So, this just leaves this man’s statement as one of the many psychological theories of the day.
Even more basic and serious is another flaw, namely, that it’s blatantly contrary to Scripture. All the problems he lists come not as a result of low self-esteem, but because of man’s rebellion against God. The “catalog of sin” in Romans 1:20-32 could not be clearer. As verse 21 declares, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Paul later lists sin after sin that results from man’s rebellion.
What then do the Scriptures say about “self?” In 2 Timothy 3:1‑5 we find Paul’s vivid description of the apostate days prior to Jesus’ return. The very first thing that Paul says of apostate mankind is that man will be “LOVERS OF THEIR OWN SELVES.” Man’s natural inclination is to love himself, but the attitude that the Word of God says to have for self is to deny it, as does Mark 8:34: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” God doesn't tell us to revel in it or build it up; rather He says to deny it. “Self” is our greatest problem.
Moreover, the only men God ever used were humble servants. He didn't use a “self‑assertive” Moses, but a humble Moses. Uniquely, while God called a self‑assertive Peter, He didn't use Peter until the Lord Jesus humbled him in John 21.